Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Wanna be good at golf? Just swing as hard as you can!

A lot of people want to be good at golf, but to any avid golfer its pretty clear that almost nobody is. This is even further illustrated by the fact that only 1% of all golfers will play a round at even par or better in their lifetime. So why do so many flock to an expensive game at which they are for all intents and purposes guaranteed to be terrible at? I say because we like a challenge. Others might say masochism. But I bet your asking yourself what would statistics say? Well, as it turns out statistics either can’t (or won’t) answer that question.  What statistics did say was that if we showed her some data from a lot of golfers then she could maybe give us some insight about why everyone sucks. Who knew statistics were so rude? Anyhow, the message clearly got passed along the grapevine and there were a few guys in Australia at Drekin University that got super interested in why people aren’t good at golf. And let me say they were pretty convinced they had it all figured out too. They hypothesized that swing speed (how fast you normally swing any given golf club while hitting a ball) and handicap (the most commonly used indicator of golf skill) would be highly correlated.  “That’s not a bad guess and this is actually really important to the world so here’s some money to test that” said the University and so they tested their hypothesis. 
They measured the club head speed of 45 golfers aged 18-80 who self-reported handicap indexes ranged from 2-27.  What they discovered in the data was a visually striking correlation between club head speed and handicap. Fantastic they said. Now we just need to fit a model to this data and we can accurately predict how much someone will suck at golf. Sure enough linear regression was used to determine that indeed club head speed and handicap were significantly correlated (r=0.950). In my opinion it is pretty surprising that such a simplistic readout like swing speed would be so highly correlated with the complex (and infuriating) process of getting a golf ball off the tee box and to its home (the hole) 18 times. For one, the metric of swing speed
doesn’t even account for putts which could account for up to half of the strokes the handicap index is based on. Furthermore, hitting a ball hard doesn’t make it want to go in the hole. I think we can all agree Happy Gilmore definitely proved this point.  Regardless, what we can take away from this is that players with higher swing speeds are simply more likely to be better than players with lower swing speeds. Now is it that lower swing speeds are causing players to suck? I would venture to say no. Furthermore, the data clearly only speak to correlation and not causation. But just to be on safe side, next time you hit the course make sure you swing hard; that is if you care at all about playing well.


1 comment:

  1. Yeah, emphasis on correlation here. The relationship is not all that surprising. Why keep playing golf to the point you actually know your handicap if you can whack the crap out of the ball only to send it into the woods. At that point, you either switch to tennis (so you are not a candidate for the study) or try to control your crazy ass swing (by slowing it down). So I am in the camp of, if you have good eye hand coordination, you keep on ripping and your swing gets more efficient. If you are less gifted with coordination, you don't take a Bubba Watson sized rip at the ball. I don't think swinging fast confers golf skill, so disagree with the title (although it is probably just sarcasm). However, it's fun to crush the ball so I can't argue with the recommendation.

    I am however envious of the study. They got to do a "research" study on golf. How awesome is that?

    They didn't stratify the population based on anything, such as years playing golf, or any physical attributes (e.g., height). Instead, all golfers were just lumped into the same category, club head speed was measured and compared to handicap. This is a very limited analysis, but their correlation was so high, that accounting for other factors probably would not matter much.

    The authors state: "In conclusion, this study has shown that club head speed is a valid indicator of performance in golfers and may therefore be a useful performance measure in future laboratory-based studies." And in fact, perhaps surprisingly, this paper was cited another that considered more factors (such as skill) in their correlation to golf handicap (J Sports Sci Med. 2011 Mar 1;10(1):9-18. eCollection 2011.)